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TACO SHELLS
USE GE CORN
NOT APPROVED FOR HUMANS

The U.S. government is investigating a strain of bioengineered corn not approved for human food that may have crept into Taco Bell shells sold in grocery stores.

The corn at issue contains a protein that government scientists said was safe for animals to eat, but could be an allergen for humans.

Regulators said that, if they determined the unapproved corn was in taco shells or other human food, the products would be immediately pulled off the market.

"If there has been a violation of our licensing process, then we would have a very great concern," said Stephen Johnson, an assistant administrator for pesticides at the Environmental Protection Agency. "Likewise, we would want to make sure we are completely protecting the public health."

"This product is not licensed in any shape or form to be in products that human beings eat. If we find there was any infraction, then we're going to come down very very hard on those responsible," said Dave Cohen, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration, which share authority over gene-spliced foods, are jointly investigating.

Before the government considers any recall, it must first confirm if the unapproved corn is in Taco Bell shells, as alleged by the anti-biotech green group, Friends of the Earth.

7 BOXES OF TACO SHELLS TESTED POSITIVE

Friends of the Earth and other members of the Genetically Engineered Food Alert coalition claim a 7-box sample of Taco Bell taco shells sold in a suburban Washington grocery store showed the presence of a Bt corn variety approved in 1998 for use in animal feed only.

The gene-spliced corn variety StarLink was developed by Aventis SA as part of the company's offerings of Bt corn. Bt corn and cotton seeds are spliced with a naturally occurring plant pesticide known as bacillus thuringiensis, which is deadly for the destructive European corn borer.

The Union of Concerned Scientists calls for investigation and recall.

Statement by Jane Rissler, Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist

Information that Taco Bell taco shells contain a variety of genetically engineered corn that has not been approved for human consumption raises disturbing questions about the regulatory oversight of genetically engineered foods.

The Union of Concerned Scientists urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the possibility that an illegal, potentially allergenic corn product is on the market, and calls on Philip Morris/Kraft, which sells the product, to initiate a voluntary recall.

In 1998, EPA approved Aventis' StarLink Bt corn only for animal feed -- not human consumption. Among the Bt corn varieties on the market, StarLink is the only one to have had registration denied for human uses. That denial was based on unresolved concerns about human health related to the possibility of allergenicity.

The Cry9C form of the Bt toxin, unique to StarLink corn, is heat stable and resistant to gastric juices --two characteristics of other proteins known to be allergenic. Allergens may cause reactions ranging from skin rashes to respiratory problems to anaphylactic shock and death.

If substantiated, this development would be another indication that the current regulatory scheme for genetically engineered foods is inadequate to protect public and environmental health and would heighten the need for better procedures to identify potential allergens and enforce legal restrictions and prohibitions.

Uncertainty about whether genetic engineering is adding new allergens to the food supply is one reason consumers are demanding a choice that allows them to avoid eating genetically engineered food if they wish. That choice is unavailable without mandatory labeling.

Written by: Genetically Engineered Food Alert


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